Five important questions for Orioles

Five important questions for Orioles
March 29, 2014, 8:45 am
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Baltimore Orioles designated hitter Henry Urrutia (right) greets Baltimore Orioles catcher Steve Clevenger (left) after hitting a solo home run against the Boston Red Sox at JetBlue Park.

(Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports)

There were some big questions back on Feb. 13 when the Orioles gathered for spring training. As they leave Sarasota this morning, some of those questions have been answered.

Their fifth starter is Bud Norris. Once Ubaldo Jimenez was signed, Norris moved from the fourth to the fifth slot.

Nelson Cruz’s signing answered the designated hitter question. He’ll DH against righties and Delmon Young will face lefties. Cruz will play left field against left-handers. David Lough will be in left when facing righties.

We don’t know when Manny Machado will play. Nor do we know how Tommy Hunter will adjust to the rigors of closing. Both of those should be answered by the end of next month.

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So, let’s look at the five biggest questions surrounding the Orioles as they begin the season on Monday afternoon.

1) Can Jonathan Schoop play second base regularly?

When camp began, Schoop was ticketed for Norfolk. The Orioles wanted him to dominate in Triple-A. Manager Buck Showalter seemingly paid lip service to Schoop early in camp, saying that he had a chance to make the club.

As Machado’s situation became more obvious, and Schoop continued to play well into March, the Orioles decided, though they have yet to make it official, that he should be given a chance to start the season at second.

If he plays brilliantly, the Orioles have a decision to make when Machado is ready. Do they try and keep both Ryan Flaherty and Steve Lombardozzi? Lombardozzi has played well in left field in the past, and could force a hard choice.

Flaherty has some power and showed off some good glove skills in spring training.

A week ago, it looked as if the veteran Alex Gonzalez forced himself onto the roster. It would have been easy to start the season with Gonzalez, then turn him loose when Machado came back.

Now, it looks as though Jemile Weeks starts at second for Norfolk.

2) By the way, when will Machado be ready?

Machado needs 50 at-bats, Dan Duquette says. He hasn’t gotten any yet. There will be daily updates.

Showalter says that once Machado begins playing, he’ll quickly be up to speed.

My guess would be about three weeks, perhaps four. If the Orioles thought Machado would be ready sooner, then it would be easier to live with Weeks at second as a placeholder. A possible month with Schoop would be instructive.

3) Well, what about Tommy Hunter?

I think Hunter’s closing is the biggest concern around the team. Hunter is effusive, but can be prickly when confronted with his shortcomings.

He probably won’t handle questions as professionally as Jim Johnson did when he blew saves. Johnson would stand at his locker and answer the inevitable questions.

Hunter would likely be more flippant.

Of course, Hunter could make that irrelevant by pitching well.

Showalter has said he prefers to have a single closer and not one by committee, but he’s open to it.

Hunter can prevent Showalter from making that hard decision.

4) Will Nolan Reimold ever play for the Orioles again?

Fans acted predictably when the news about Reimold came out this week. He would start the season on the disabled list.

He’s hit decently during the spring, but his neck still hasn’t healed well enough for him to comfortably play the outfield.

When the fans impatience with him was pointed out, Reimold noted he was more tired than anyone of talking about it.

Reimold was outplayed in the spring by Young and Steve Pearce, and this move buys some time.

Other clubs still are intrigued by Reimold, and if the Orioles decided to let him go, he’d quickly get another chance.

5) Will Johan Santana ever pitch for the Orioles?

One of the biggest surprises in camp came when young pitcher Eduardo Rodriguez instagrammed Santana’s visit to the Orioles camp.

Even though he’d thrown slowly during a showcase, the Orioles signed the two-time Cy Young Award winner.

Santana has made steady progress in the past three weeks, and is now throwing from a full mound.

He hoped to be in the majors by June 1, and that looks possible. He’s a few steps ahead of Dylan Bundy, who’s had a strong spring in his rehab, too.

NOTES: Catcher Johnny Monell, who was designated for assignment last Saturday when the Orioles claimed David Adams on waivers, has been assigned outright to Norfolk.

-Alfredo Aceves, who exercised an opt-out in his contract on Friday when he didn’t make the team, signed a minor league contract with the Yankees.

-The Orioles are supposed to play at Norfolk this afternoon at 3:05 p.m., but rain is forecast. Mike Wright and Suk-min Yoon would pitch for the Orioles against the Tides.